RM Winter 2016 FLIP

Groovin’ to the Sounds of Music: Songs as Literacy Instruments

Susan King Fullerton, Clemson University Julianne Turowetz, Clemson University

Reading Matters Teaching Matters

After having difficulties with reading as a child, he began his career as a special needs teacher but became a performer of children’s songs—combining music and movement, call-and- response, rhythm, rhyme, and repetition (Green, 2014). These characteristics are also evident in his Pete the Cat books. Although anecdotal evidence on this topic is more prevalent than organized research, the benefits of music and song on literacy development are undeniable. A number of important correlates can be drawn between music and literacy according to numerous experts (Fisher, 2001; Harp, 1988; Iwasaki, Rasinski, Yildirim, & Zimmerman, 2013; Miller & Coen, 1994). Music is undoubtedly present in the world of children, whether they are singing to themselves as they play, dancing along to a song on the radio, or singing chants and nursery rhymes on the playground. Strong social bonds are encouraged through music and songs beginning in pre-school, and toddlers can begin to experiment with grammatical rules and and various rhyming patterns in songs. A child’s initial introduction to patterned text often occurs first in songs, chants, and rhymes, which are repeated through childhood. (Paquette & Rieg, 2008, p. 228) In the remainder of this article, we will discuss the tools that songs offer in support of literacy learning. We will begin by providing suggestions for songs as curricular instruments for emergent and early literacy, supported by educational rationales. We then offer ideas for elementary and beyond including English language learners. Music and Songs in the Early Years Music is memorable and engaging, making it a perfect tool for early reading development. As represented in the read-aloud experience of Pete the Cat described above, songs teach young readers many important aspects of early literacy. Such musical interactions and merriment are reminiscent of early home and play experiences. For example, when Julie babysat for two year old Sarah, one of Sarah’s favorite activities was to tune in to YouTube videos of sing-along books such as Driving My Tractor (Dobbins, 2009), The Animal Boogie , (Harter, 2005), and Giraffes Can’t Dance (Andreae & Laurie, 2002). As she sang along, she would instruct Julie to turn the pages of the book to go along with the video illustrations as the narrator sang. Julie was surprised to find that Sarah knew exactly when the pages should be turned! She even got upset when Julie got distracted and did not turn the page at the right time. The multimodal effects of music, video, and books were teaching Sarah how books work. These effects

Abstract —Music is a valuable tool for literacy development at any age. Increasingly, there is awareness that music and singing in conjunction with reading promote phonemic and phonological awareness, concepts about print, phonics knowledge, word recognition, and vocabulary acquisition (Biggs, Homan, Dedrick, & Rasinski, 2008; Fisher, 2001; Iwasaki, Rasinski, Yildirim, & Zimmerman, 2013). Our work with students also suggests that song lyrics have the potential to promote literary interpretation. In this article, we discuss ways that songs support reading and writing throughout the grades and instructional approaches for capitalizing upon its potential in classrooms. Groovin’ to the Sounds of Music: Songs as Literacy Instruments “Where is Pete going? The library! Pete has never been to the library before! Does Pete worry? Goodness no! He finds his favorite book and sings his song: The excerpt above from Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes (Litwin, 2011) is actually the second refrain of Pete’s song. As Susan observes the librarian read the words above, the children are already primed by the previous pages to chime in and sing along with Pete. The book represents the first day of school, and the main character’s self-confidence and optimism shines through, allaying any newcomer’s anxiety with the call-and-response, “Does Pete worry?”“Goodness no.” Susan recently observed this musical read-aloud experience while waiting for her next student teacher observation. The librarian invited the children to chime in and every child in the kindergarten class was totally engaged by the read-aloud - singing along, and connecting to the coolness that is Pete. Then the librarian asked them to come over to a large screen and stand as she brought up a YouTube video of Eric Litwin, the author, and James Dean, the illustrator, sharing the text and singing Pete’s song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=35&v=yrhnMAzDeHY By the time the kindergartners and the librarian were barely into the video, I (Susan) could hardly stay in my seat! I, too, wanted to get my groove on with Pete! Perhaps Litwin explains it best—he terms such experiences, “musical interactive literacy.” ‘I’m reading in my school shoes. I’m reading in my school shoes. I’m reading in my school shoes.’”

Reading Matters | Volume 16 • Winter 2016 | scira.org | 39 |


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